October 2019

The Pros and Cons of Being a Giver

Author: Becca Edwards

As we move into the season of giving, it is important to reflect on what it means to actually be a giver—emotionally, mentally and physically. A giver is not simply someone who gives presents or parties. A true giver is someone who invests in relationships and has the best interest of others in mind, sometimes putting the needs of others before his or her own needs. As with most personality traits, there are positives and negatives to extending this type of generosity to others. Having shared that, let’s give some insight into the pros and cons of what it means to be a giver.

For many people, it feels good to care for other people and spread love and kindness via altruism. For other people, the act of giving seems magnanimous and is a personality trait to be proud of; they give to feel good about themselves. And for some, the act of giving is similar to a transaction or the barter system—meaning when they give, they get something in return: affirmation or a feel-good response to the giving.

Regardless of why you are a giver, physiological responses occur in your body. For example, when you give, you release oxytocin, a powerful neurotransmitter and hormone produced in the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland. Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone” because it is released during sex (as well as childbirth and lactation) and helps you experience joy. Think of oxytocin as the anti-venom to cortisol, a stress hormone that when produced in excess (which is the case for most people) produces belly fat, feelings of anxiousness and insomnia. As a result of producing more oxytocin, you can more easily manage your weight and stress level, regulate your hormones, and experience many other wellness benefits.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, people who regularly give also experience increased self-esteem, less depression, lower blood pressure, greater happiness, and, most noteworthy, longer life. Cleveland Clinic reported, “Biologically, giving can create a ‘warm glow,’ activating regions in the brain associated with pleasure, connection with other people and trust.” In addition to oxytocin, the report stated that “during gift-giving behaviors, humans secrete ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brains, such as serotonin (a mood-mediating chemical) and dopamine (a feel-good chemical).”

Another study claims that giving also stimulates a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate, which is involved in our memory, attention, motivation, and, interestingly enough, prayer, empathy and compassion, thus creating a better spiritual connection. This, too, reduces stress and may be linked to better digestion, greater feelings of optimism and overall better health.

Lastly, when researchers from the National Institutes of Health looked at the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to various charities, they found that “giving stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, which is the reward center in the brain, releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the ‘helper’s high.’”

But can you give too much? And if so, can it negate some of the health benefits you generated from giving? The answer, in short, is yes. The people who drop everything for friends and family members on a constant basis may fail to practice self-care by opting to spend their free time helping a friend rather than going to that much-needed exercise class. Over-givers tend to not exhibit a healthy competitive spirit in the workforce, therefore possibly not reaching their true potential.

In addition, over-givers often experience feelings of frustration, irritation, or lack of appreciation. Many moms will attest to this. One wellness client, a mother of three who worked part-time and was caring for her ailing parents exclaimed, “I do everything. [BLEEPING] everything. For once, I wish someone would do something for me.” She admitted feeling resentment toward her loved ones, which created a backlash of stress and guilt for being resentful.

Psychology Today reported, “Over-giving is not the ultimate form of selflessness. Instead, it essentially comes from an inability to receive. That means you give, give, give because you think (or hope) it will be appreciated, or because it makes you feel good about yourself, or because you feel morally obligated to.” Continuing the article said, “The truth is, if you are unable to take in love, attention, or help from others and accept it completely, you are giving from an empty heart.” The article then provided a useful questionnaire to determine if you are an over-giver:

-It feels so good and important for you to be the giver in almost every relationship.
-You feel guilty when someone gives something to you.
-You put the needs of others before your own.
-You apologize excessively if you are not able to “give” the way you would like to.
-You avoid or are uncomfortable at the thought of asking for something.
-You have considered the possibility that your giving could be the result of some insecurity.
-You find that you give because you want to feel loved, liked, or admired.

As in most areas of life, it is all about balance. A healthy amount of giving boosts your emotional, mental and physical well-being. An unhealthy amount depletes your emotional, mental and physical well-being. To achieve balance, try making a list of people who are worthy of your giving. These are the people who bring you joy when you give to them. Then, make a list of people who may not be worthy of your giving. These are people who are emotionally draining and do not bring you joy when you give to them.

Weekly and even daily, remember to “put on your oxygen mask first,” meaning mindfully and with confidence, put self-care on your schedule.

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